A police officer's view of violent protests

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- At demonstrations in cities across the country, squads of riot equipped police have been facing emotional, angry crowds, often feeling empowered by using cell phone video cameras.

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Detective James Gonzalez of the San Jose Police Department CBS News

"There are some who would like to capture on video police doing something that will look bad," said James Gonzalez, a detective with the San Jose Police Department.

Gonzalez has seen the demonstrations from the other side. Early in his career, his own police car was with hit bricks during a protest.

"We are always outnumbered," Gonzalez told me. "The first thing that goes through any police officer's mind is how do we get all the people home safely."

In his 15 years in the San Jose Police Department, Gonzalez has become experienced in pulling on full riot gear. While officers may look intimidating and impervious behind the protective equipment, Gonzalez says it's not how officers feel.

"You feel extremely vulnerable," he said. "There's a big difference in perception of what we see from one side of the riot glass and what protesters see from the other side."

When officers try to separate troublemakers from peaceful protesters, making an arrest can incite more trouble.

"That's a very difficult thing to do and that crowd will often turn on the police doing that very difficult job," said Gonzalez.

It happened recently in Gonzales' own department, at a football game. When San Jose officers tried to remove a drunk and disorderly man from the stadium, fans shouted for the police to stop. The video quickly circulated online.

"Video is only one angle, one perspective, it doesn't tell the whole story," Gonzalez told me.

Police departments start using body cams

Soon officers in San Jose, like those in many other other cities, will be wearing their own video cameras -- adding a police perspective to the debate.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.